Label spotlight

Setola di Maiale
By Ken Waxman

When things become negative, it’s time to invent other stuff,” declares drummer Stefano Giust, explaining why and how Setola di Maiale (SdM), his Bologna, Italy-based label, was founded in 1993, and is still going strong 322 releases later. He elaborates: “In the beginning possibilities for all the talented musicians weren't available, for obvious reasons, including economic strategies. How many people love free improvisation, free jazz and experimental music anyways?” he asks.

The idea for SdM came from the D-I-Y cassette culture Giust had been involved with which disseminated non-mainstream products. Other inspiration came from earlier independent labels such as ESP and Ictus. “My choice was to be free, to avoid the music market. Maybe I'm Utopian but my only interest is to work for musicians as a contribution to an international community of artists.” Setola di Maiale means pig bristle in English, he explains. “In Italian ‘pig’ isn’t a nice word, so this sounded interesting. Good taste is an enemy of the arts.” More seriously, a pig bristle was also the earliest device used like a phonograph needle to record and play back sound.

SdM’s first releases were one LP and two cassettes, but the CD-R was soon adapted as its preferred format. “It would have been impossible to print so many titles if I had opted for only vinyl or CDs. It would have been too expensive. The CD-R of today is perfect and when printed professionally it looks like nothing less than a CD. You can print the number you need and reprinting is also simple. An initial SdM pressing, on average, is 150 copies, depending on the artist.” Deciding on the finished art work and graphic design is up to the musician. But here too there are savings, since Giust, who trained and worked as a graphic designer, can create an adept package. “At the beginning I adopted ‘a corporate identity’ but after few years I didn't want to be boring with similar graphics and bore myself.”

Unless asked by Giust to record, who pays for the first printing, all SdM artists finance his or her sessions. “I don't have contributions from private or public Institutions and I'm not a rich person,” he states. “There’s no other way to survive in a market.” He declares: “Year after year, more and more labels are forced to ask for help from musicians for their production. This happens in every kind of music, included classical. Why does this happen? It concerns a political intention in addition to an economy completely out of control that destroys everything that’s not globalized. Anything different is out of the market.”

About 500 artists have recorded for SdM, with the majority from Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, the US and Japan. “It’s a collective work,” suggests Giust. “Musicians send me files or e-mail links to listen to their proposal and if the music makes sense for the catalogue and the musicians agree with the label’s guidelines, I work as executive producer. I need a final master: recording, mixing and mastering are under the control of the musician. The graphic design and organization behind the final package are included in the cost. The majority of the discs are then sent to the artist. At my own expense, I add a few for the label's website and promotion.”

Confirms peripatetic American keyboardist Thollem McDonas, who has recorded three SdM CDs: “I've only had good experiences with SdM. The first album was The View from Up, recorded at Stefano Scodanibbio's festival in Macerata. Stefano Giust was enthusiastic to release this and it’s best to go with the most enthusiastic option. This was also true for Trio Music Minus One with Gino Robair. Stefano said something like, ‘I'd love to release this album on SdM,” and Gino and I said, ‘great!’. Stefano has a wonderful discography, so there's a lot of good company we share. Stefano is exceptionally positive. He's profoundly dedicated to music and his fellow musicians, very much cares about community and quality. And he always follows through with what he says he's going to do.”

Adds Milan-based saxophonist Massimo Falascone, who has released nine SdM sessions: “I’m pleased to collaborate with Stefano. I met him eight years ago, and soon took two of my projects to SdM: my solo album Works 05-007-2008 and the improvisational trio restart. We established a good relationship and I have a special feeling with him as a person, as a musician as well as a label owner. Over the years SdM has built up a respected catalog and I recognize myself in its ‘editorial’ line. I’ll gladly take him my recent projects. At an affordable price you have a very nice product in all details, particularly graphics. You have maximum artistic freedom, and without obligation of any kind you can reprint your CDs even in a limited number of copies.”

Artists don’t sign contracts with SdM, and even Giust has recorded for other labels. “Musicians can record for other labels. They can sell the discs at the price they want, on their website or at concerts. Plus they’re free to reprint the disc on other labels, put the music onto free or paid downloads and give their albums to distributors,” he explains. “This way of doing business makes money for the musician, especially if he or she plays concerts or has many contacts. Plus we have complete control of the numbers to print, if needed we can reprint one time, two times and so on.”

Although SdM has no distributors, CDs can be purchased from its website. “I'm happy to be out of the major record industry, their rules have no effects on me, I don't need contracts to live and play what I like,” Giust adds. Some sessions are put out on vinyl. But due to the expense only three have appeared that way. It’s the same with SdM’s seven DVDs.” I have no problem to print DVD-Rs if the project is interesting,” he explains: “But this stuff doesn’t sell well.” However Giust isn’t a fan of downloads. “I have nothing against those who put music for download on their websites or on Bandcamp. What I don't like are things like Spotify or iTunes and their policies, But this is the logic of the contemporary market. Corporation means inequality.” SdM projects are available via Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube and iTunes.

SdM has a clutch of new discs ready for release. They include Classified with Michele Anelli, Dominik Gawara and Giust; Luftschifffeiertagserinnerungfotoalbum by Grosse Abfahrt; and Bellezza Fiammeggiante featuring Edoardo Ricci and Edoardo Marraffa.

Summing up his philosophy Giust says: “Things that are true, genuine and honest, can be found only by digging deeply in the ground: the mainstream is desert death, regarding both culture and information. It’s a well-oiled machine to make people have the same point of view to make the perfect consumer. I have no interest in growing the label, because I like it small. It means more freedom and fewer problems. I don’t care about distributors or worse, to be competitive with other labels. Béla Bartók said it well: ‘Only horses have to compete with each other when they have to run, humans need joy’.”

—For The New York City Jazz Record November 2016